Article: Dreams

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Kalpa-sūtra and the 14 dreams

This manuscript painting depicts some of the dreams of the woman carrying a Jina. According to the Śvetāmbaras, she has 14 dreams while the Digambaras say 16. Twelve Śvetāmbara dreams are shown here, minus the sixth and seventh – the moon and the sun.

Dreams of an expectant mother
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

In the Śvetāmbara tradition, the first detailed description of each of the 14 dreams is found in the Kalpa-sūtra. This is a sacred book written in Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit, the first part of which narrates the lives of the 24 Jinas, starting with that of Mahāvīra.

The dreams of Mahāvīra’s two mothers are given in considerable detail four times in this tale, as follows:

  1. When at first the brahmin lady Devānandā is pregnant with the future Mahāvīra, she has the 14 dreams announcing that her child will become a Tīrthaṃkara.
  2. When the embryo has been transferred to Triśalā, a lady from the kṣatriya caste, in which a future Jina must be born, she has the same dreams.
  3. After Triśalā awakes from these dreams, she tells her husband, who understands that they predict the birth of a boy who will be the glory of the family. As the night has not yet ended, Triśalā goes back to bed but decides to stay awake. She does not want possible bad dreams to counteract these auspicious dreams so she listens to good religious stories (Jacobi 1895: 240).
  4. The next morning, the king orders the hall of audience to be ceremoniously prepared and readies himself to welcome the dream-interpreters for whom he has sent. They tell him that the 14 dreams are experienced by mothers of universal monarchs or Jinas (Jacobi 1895: 246).

The mothers of three other Jinas are described as having the same dreams but they all experience the dream of the bull first, not second. These Jinas are:

Together with Mahāvīra, these individuals are the four most popular Jinas. The text does not go into detail about the dreams of the mothers of the other 20 Jinas.

Fourteen dreams in the text

This manuscript painting illustrates some of the auspicious dreams of the mother of a baby who becomes a Jina. According to the Śvetāmbara sect, she has 14 dreams. The dreams pictured here run from the first onwards.

First six auspicious dreams
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

When the brahmin lady Devānandā has her 14 dreams, they are listed in a stanza.

When Triśalā has the same dreams the identical stanza is used, but is followed by a description of each of the dreams.

This description is in sophisticated prose. It features extremely long descriptive compounds, characteristic of old Indian poetical style. The physical appearance of the animals, the goddess Śrī and the various objects is a focus of description. There are detailed comparisons, for example when describing colours, along with rich vocabulary.

Other devices used in this lyrical style include listing and meticulous description. An example of the first is the list of a large variety of flowers in the description of the garland in dream number 5 while the birds of the lotus pond in dream number 11 are listed in detail.

Instances of the second device include the lively nature of the animal portraits and the account of Śrī. The goddess’s body is described in the traditional fashion suitable for non-human beings, which goes from the feet to the head. She is said to be seated on a lotus while elephants sprinkle her with water using their trunks. This element is often shown in iconography.

Some scholars assert that the mention of a 'garland of dīnāra-coins' as an ornament around Śrī’s neck suggests that the dream section dates from a period when this type of coin became popular in India. If so, it is perhaps later than the rest of the text (Shah 1987: 18).

On the other hand, it has been shown that the prose description contains some archaic stylistic features. The main one is some compounds that are written in metrical prose (Jacobi 1885).

Fourteen dreams in illustrations

This manuscript painting illustrates some of the auspicious dreams experienced by the mother of a baby who will grow up to be a Jina. According to the Śvetāmbara sect, she has 14 dreams. The dreams pictured here run from the seventh dream onwards.

Second six auspicious dreams
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The dreams of the pregnant woman are represented in several stock ways in manuscripts of the Kalpa-sūtra. The artist may use all of them or choose a few.

A common method is to show the pregnant mother lying on her bed, with the 14 dreams pictured in small size at the top, arranged in one or several rows. In the case of Mahāvīra, both his mothers, Devānandā and Triśalā, have the dreams. The dreams can thus be shown once or twice in the same manuscript, as in these two folios in the British Library. The traditional sequence of dreams may be rearranged, depending on the space available.

Painters sometimes copy the scene for the sections dealing with the births of Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva, Neminātha or Lord Nemi and R̥ṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha. This is not found frequently, however, so it seems as if the 14 dreams have always been closely connected with Mahāvīra alone.

When portraying the 14 dreams, painters might show them in a group or individually. If the dreams are illustrated as a group, either they are all the same size or the fourth one, the goddess Śrī, is much larger than the others.

Depicting each dream individually is less common because it uses a lot of space. A rare instance is provided by the manuscript 'Hg', shown in W. Norman Brown (1934: figures 21 to 33). Here 13 paintings are devoted to the 14 dreams, with the flag and the pitcher in one illustration. But this manuscript contains 64 miniatures in total, which is unusually high.

Sometimes several of the dreams are shown in successive small vignettes. This manuscript held in the British Library under the shelfmark Or. 13455 has individual pages featuring the:

Another comparatively rare artistic decision is where the illustration of the auspicious dreams is spread over successive pages. This example found in the British Library under the shelfmark of Or. 13701 shows on different pages the:

When only one dream is represented individually, it is always Śrī. An explanation could be that as a female deity her protective role is primary, and she is more recognisable than objects.

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Related Manuscripts

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    Victoria and Albert Museum. IM 161-1914. Unknown author. 16th century

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    Victoria and Albert Museum. IS. 83-1963. Unknown author. 15th century

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